The Hawaiian Hamburglar

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“A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds.”
-Ralph Waldo Emerson

Here’s a story in the Huffington Post I think many of you will relate to in one way or another (Emerson certainly did). Recently, in Honolulu, a former Air Force sergeant, her husband and their two year-old daughter stop at the local supermarket, a national chain, to pick up some groceries. The mom, who happens to be 30 weeks pregnant, is famished and feeling faint. She quickly eats a $5 chicken salad sandwich. She pockets the sandwich wrapper with every intention of paying for it, finishes shopping, heads to the register with her husband and daughter and pays for her $50 worth of groceries.

The family exists the store and is immediately confronted by a security guard who informs her that she has just shoplifted. Surprised and embarrassed, the mom apologizes profusely and offers to immediately return inside to pay for the $5 sandwich. The security guard refuses her request, EVEN THOUGH SHE JUST BOUGHT $50 WORTH OF GROCERIES, and brings her, her husband and daughter to the store manager.

Now, here’s where the tale gets truly Orwellian. The supermarket manager, while sympathetic to the woman’s plight, is unwilling to break from store policy and calls the police. The police arrive, see that the “apprehended suspect” has a child with her, and, unwilling to break from policy, call in Child Services. Child Services arrives, and, unwilling to break from policy, TAKES THE CHILD INTO PROTECTIVE CUSTODY while the former Air Force Sergeant and 30-week pregnant mom and her husband are arrested and brought to jail.

Finally, after 18 hours in custody and posting $50 dollars bail, each, the mom and dad are reunited with their child, the national supermarket chain gets united with a public relations nightmare, and the couple starts fielding enquiries from a bevy of enthusiastic and skilled lawyers. And all for a $5 chicken salad sandwich. But here’s the rub, along every step of this terrible and ridiculous ordeal, the technocrats following the orders were fully aware of the absurdity of the policies they were enforcing but were unwilling to contradict them.

Now, in some ways we see this happening in the business world all the time, especially in an international arena, where the adherence to rules can vary significantly between cultures. According to psychologist Barry Schwartz and his compelling TED Lecture, the difference between a great manager and/or worker and a mediocre one is the wisdom to know when to follow a rule and when to ignore it. His lecture is a near case study in how humanity and wisdom make the world and workplace a better and more productive one.

In a complimentary lecture, take a look at how one visionary CEO, the largest manufacturer of carpets and flooring in the world, decided to trust his wisdom over prevailing opinion and make his company entirely green. It’s a story of exquisite executive foresight, courage and profitability. Believe it or not, in the 14 years since the company began their green and zero-impact protocols, sales have gone from $591 million to nearly $1.1 billion! How’s that for wisdom?

By the way, do you ever find yourself eating or drinking something you plan on buying at the supermarket before you pay for it? Couldn’t you compare this to dining at a restaurant where you eat first and pay later?

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